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Badger Bits: UW with huge roles to replace on special teams

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Long snapper Kyle Wojta (left) and punter Brad Nortman (right) will be missed next season after their three years of consistent play on special teams.
Long snapper Kyle Wojta (left) and punter Brad Nortman (right) will be missed next season after their three years of consistent play on special teams.

Leading up to last weekend's spring game, plenty of storylines surrounded positions on both sides of the ball. We heard about Stave's progression at quarterback, the lack of depth at wide receiver and the plethora of options on the defensive line. But one area in particular has been overlooked more than the rest: the incoming specialists.

When most Badger fans remember special teams from a year ago, blocked punts and blown kickoff coverage first come to mind. But there were superb specialists on the team who rarely received much attention or praise and will be sorely missed come September.

Punter Brad Nortman, kicker Philip Welch and long snapper Kyle Wojta did not make headlines often during their time at UW — which is typically a good thing for special teams players.

Nortman, regarded as one of the best punters in all of college football, averaged over 42 yards per punt last season and went in the sixth round of the NFL Draft to Carolina.

Welch missed a large part of the 2011 season due to injury, but his 384 career points are second-most in Big Ten history by a kicker.

And Wojta, a three-year long snapper at UW, rarely made miscues on the special teams unit as well.

No disrespect to the incoming specialists, but they have fairly large shoes to fill.

Despite losing Welch, Kyle French should fill in nicely at the kicker position. He is not known for having a powerful leg, so do not expect to see him on kickoffs, but he saw solid playing time when an injury sidelined Welch. French appeared in seven games last season, making three of five field goal attempts (That prolific offense of the Badgers did not give him many field goal opportunities). The Badgers' newest kicker also helped his cause in last weekend's spring game, nailing eight of nine field goal attempts.

After French, the other two positions have a bit more work cut out for them. Nortman's replacement at punter, redshirt freshman Drew Meyer, struggled early in the spring game. After he botched his first couple attempts, he managed to settle down, but still only averaged 36 yards per punt. The man snapping to Meyer, new long snapper James McGuire, also needs to make progress before the season starts, but plenty of time remains to improve until the regular season begins.

Fans will dearly miss the consistency of last year's specialists. Losing three top specialists is never an easy task to replace. It's not that the replacements cannot successfully fulfill their new roles, but that there is much more than a quarterback to replace on this team.

Friday's Links:

Linebacker Mike Taylor, one of the best in the B1G last season, talks about regaining his speed and where the defense currently stands.

Tom Mulhern breaks down every position on the Badgers, giving a first look at how the depth charts looks now.

Hockey captain John Ramage announced he will return for his senior season.

The idea of creating a Big Ten-SEC bowl matchup in St. Louis appears to be a long shot now.

Three more kickoff times were released for the Badgers, including two nationally televised games on ABC against Michigan State and Illinois.

Camp Randall is looking rather bleak these days. With new turf on its way, check out the current state of the stadium.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wants a four-team playoff to be decided by conference champions, but with teams that must finish at least sixth in the national rankings to qualify.